The Austin Chronicle

Fired Firefighter James Baker Pleas Out

By Nina Hernandez, October 12, 2018, 10:15am, Newsdesk

Former Austin Fire Department Lt. James Baker pleaded guilty to a felony invasive recording charge for taping one of his colleagues, fire specialist Kelly Gall. As part of a plea bargain, District Attorney Margaret Moore’s office recommended five years deferred adjudication and the permanent surrender of Baker’s firefighting license.

In a press conference prior to the hearing, Austin Firefighters Association President Bob Nicks said the union would prefer the office pursue a felony conviction, rather than the deal, which he characterized as a “probationary slap on the wrist.” He said, “We met with the district attorney, and she believes in earnest that’s the best she can do. And we believe earnestly that it’s not enough.”

A retired Austin firefighter, who attended the hearing to support Gall, said the idea of being violated in that way at AFD shook her. The D.A.’s offer for Baker to plea out reopened the wound. “It’s like being hurt once and then getting hurt again.”

Moore addressed concerns about the plea deal shortly after Friday’s hearing.

“The office does not enter into plea negotiations without careful deliberation and intense scrutiny of the facts of each case,” she said in a statement. “Victims are always consulted before any plea offer is made to a defendant. We fully understand that the victim is not happy about the plea offer in this case, but our charge is to see that justice is done. This includes taking into account the harm to the victim, the conduct, and the effect on the perpetrator. The case involving James Baker was resolved in the same manner as other serious cases handled in this office every day.”

Moore also noted that Baker’s lack of a criminal history fed into their prosecution, as well as a psychological study conducted on him that concluded he was a low risk for re-offending.

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